Last week at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, Brooklyn bands were everywhere. From up-and-coming acts like Williamsburg’s S-S-S-Spectres to major-label artists like Park Slope’s MGMT, the borough was well represented to the indie rock elite. Lee Greenfeld, an owner of the Brooklyn Heights rock club Magnetic Field, was in Austin, too — managing bands that were playing the festival — but for the first time in five years, he wasn’t looking for acts to bring back to Atlantic Avenue.
On March 31, Magnetic Field will close after more than five years, leaving Brooklyn Heights without a venue for live rock music.
“I grew up in the Heights, and I always wanted to do something in Brooklyn,” Greenfeld told GO Brooklyn. “There was always a dearth of venues when I was growing up, and even in my 20s, you had to go to the city for music, but luckily that’s changed in the past few years.”
Opened in December 2002 by William Crane, the club was meant to breathe life into the Brooklyn Heights nightlife scene, to mirror what Southpaw had done two years earlier on Fifth Avenue in Park Slope.
“They were on the cutting edge of being a live venue in our immediate area,” said Brooklyn Heights Blog publisher Homer Fink. “That was an important aspect, that they embraced live local music and that’s something that you probably won’t see replaced.”
Starting out as a booker and eventually becoming a partner in the venue, Greenfeld booked then-unknown bands like Voxtrot and The Black Lips and also brought in the borough’s barflies and bookish types with trivia nights and a reading series.
“My pool league met there on Monday nights, but I would go on the weekends as well,” said James Vause, a Cobble Hill resident whose billiards team met at the bar for more than a year. “One of the reasons I loved having my pool team there was that they had an open DJ night, so when I was playing pool, I was also able to get time on the house speakers to play whatever I liked.”
The space is small by rock club standards. The long, narrow room houses a bar on one side and a set of booths, raised slightly off ground level, on the other.
Pool tables live in the back of the space but are moved out of the way on nights when bands are playing. This is a real rockers haunt, not a megaclub, but has managed to attract top-tier bands and solid crowds throughout its lifetime.
Keeping a rock club running, however, requires more than just a keen ear for talent and a penchant for planning theme nights; it requires money and patience.
“Running a bar would be a 24-hour job,” said Greenfeld. “Even with a business partner, it’s just a ton of work and takes a lot of passion. And that’s not even considering the music aspect. We do a minimum of three shows a week, so coupling that amount of work with everything from the bar takes a lot of commitment, and you end up living on a very different schedule than the rest of the world. My day usually ends when it’s getting light out.“
He added, “A bar is the kind of business where when anything breaks, it’s always a big deal. There have been a lot of bad nights.”
Not enough, though, to cancel out the good ones.
“People always seems to be enthusiastic and being that it was off the beaten path, people really had to want to be there,” said Prospect Heights resident Billy Miller, who played the club around a dozen times with his band The A-Bones, and even throwing a surprise birthday party for his wife at the space. “Lee and William have always had their fingers on the pulse.”
With this kind of following amongst musicians and patrons, it’s unusual to see a club owner walk away from his creation. For Crane and Greenfeld, there just wasn’t enough attraction left in Magnetic Field.
“William’s a dad, and I manage bands, and its been taking my energy away from the bar,” said Greenfeld. “It’s never been just a job, and suddenly it started veering toward that possibility.” So, while clubs across the city are closing due to rent hikes or impossible-to-get insurance or even lack of interest, Magnetic Field is closing due to ennui?
“We’ve had good landlords,” said Greenfeld. “It was just really time for a change. Keeping a club open is a lot of work, and we really needed a change in life.”
For its final week, the club will host a slew of shows with bands including The A-Bones, Les Sans Culottes, The Miscreants and more. But after the dust from that raucous week has settled, where will Brooklyn Heights rockers be left to roost?
Fink predicted that “most of the people who hung out there will probably just go hang out [across the street] at Last Exit.”
“Closing Week Blow-Out” is March 24 - 30 at Magnetic Field (97 Atlantic Ave. at Hicks Street in Brooklyn Heights). Tickets prices vary. For information and a full schedule of events, call (718) 834-0069 or visit www.magneticbrooklyn.com.